Avon, $5.99, ISBN 0-380-82104-4
Contemporary Romance, 2003
There’s a wonderful couple in this book. Suzanne Macpherson knows how to create snappy and wisecracking characters with a touch of old-school romantic comedy chemistry. Unfortunately, Talk of the Town is also a shameless, calculated pandering tale geared towards readers with a fetish for small town utopia porn.
Kelly Atwood’s marriage of three hours has gone down the drain. That man she loves and marries turns out to be a shady fellow with a stash of cocaine in his bag. Of course, some women will be glad that their new hubby care enough to bring the extra special fun factor to their honeymoon, but we romance readers aren’t like that and we certainly don’t approve. Anyway, she conks out the hubby and flees in his car. She also accidentally takes along a bag filled with fifty dollar notes that may or may not be genuine. Then she ditches the car and gets on a bus, where she meets Myrtle, a sage old dotty woman who is clearly the author’s self insert. So Myrtle is going to be referred to from now on as Suzie Macpherson. Suzie Macpherson tells Kelly that she comes from Paradise, and she offers Kelly boarding, free pass, and everything if she stays there. Of course, I wonder what sort of crackpot will invite a woman with gangsters on her trail to stay with her, but when it comes to Pleasantville Revival Festivals, logic isn’t exactly part of the $5.99 parcel.
And Paradise, wow! If you are the type to yearn for movies to be endlessly in black and white and people to have a big smile on their face as they peer into your windows to see what you are doing 24/7, you will love this place. The sole movie theatre shows movies from the 1930s. The town is described as stuck in a 1950s timewarp. I wonder if they drag people they suspect to be communists to the town center for a public lynching. In Paradise, shops don’t exist as economic centers, they are just quaint lil’ buildings with cute frilly-curtained windows where you can go in for a chit-chat with the townspeople that will want to know everything you do in the shower last night. Where people aren’t people but tiny lil’ Suzie Macpherson mini-me’s that exist only to anticipate, drool, and prod the handsome and beautiful main characters to do the ugly bumpy. The only unpleasant person is of course That Woman who wants our hero for herself.
Our hero is Sam Grayson. He hails from the city, where he flees because (a) he was involved with a city girl that just has to turn out to be a DUI-happy junkie and (b) town life is so materialistic and all, he’s just glad to be in Paradise. Being the only guy with functioning male sexual organs in the story, he has everyone throwing his or her daughter at him for matrimony. However, while he wants good and wholesome women, somehow these wholesome women don’t excite him. He is now thinking of putting up a personal ad. Then comes Suzie Macpherson dragging Kelly to Paradise and va-va-voom! A homely small town girl with the body of a supermodel – woo-hoo! What more can a virtuous small town guy want, eh?
Once in Paradise, the spunky and self-sufficient Kelly immediately morphs into a bizarre nitwit that starts wailing about how she is a slut because she married the wrong guy and how she is unworthy of Paradise. Her relationship with Sam are tepid and formulaic, more of a result of a dozen Suzie Macphersons prodding and watching eagerly with their scary lil’ beady eyes. It is only when the author remembers that Kelly has bad guys on her tail and the external conflict finally kicks in during the late third of the book that things finally become interesting (relatively speaking, that is). Kelly decides to leave Paradise – and look, she gets her spine back! See, I told you, Paradise is evil.
The first and late third of Talk of the Town aren’t half-bad. But for the most of the middle portion of the book, it’s all about unbelievably saccharine moments in a small town so contrivedly stilted and artificial that I’m shocked that our main couple actually have sex. I’m half expecting married couples to sleep in separate beds just like those old stupid and cloying “virtuous” TV shows of the past.
If you believe that nothing is wonderful unless it’s in black and white and dates at least sixty years old, you’ll love this book. As for me, with its glaringly ersatz depiction of small town Utopia while being devoid of any self-awareness (okay, there’s a little self-awareness, but not enough) of how artificial the whole thing is, Talk of the Town is just an exercise of Mary Sue plotting served with an unhealthy amount of artificial flavorings and sweeteners.